Annabel by Kathleen Winter – a review

Annabel is a novel about an intersex child born in a small town in Labrador in 1968, his parents’ decision to raise him as a boy, and the effects that that decision has on them all.  It is inevitably but unfortunately compared by most (if not all) reviewers to Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex.  I say “inevitably” because both are recent novels which deal with the subject of intersex children, so the comparison comes easily.  I say “unfortunately” because whereas Middlesex was dry, interminably dense with the history of the city of Detroit (which added exactly nothing to the story), and thick with uninteresting characters, Annabel is impossible to put down, written by someone who clearly knows her way around a sentence, and contains characters who are complex and sympathetic, even when their decisions are clearly going to lead to hardship.

It’s hard for me to pick a favourite passage; the chapters build themselves so well that it’s hard to excerpt just a sliver.  But here is one passage I enjoyed from early in the book:

“You get used to something unusual when you’re the one it happens to,” Jacinta said to Thomasina.  “If Wayne had two heads I’d get used to that in a few months, and I would wonder why anyone would want to change him.  There’s something good to be said for any circumstance.  That’s the way I see it.”

But it was not, she knew, the way others saw things, and it was not the way Jacinta herself would have seen them had another woman in the cove had a baby who was a hermaphrodite.  Sometimes you had to be who you were and endure what happened to you, and to you alone, before you could understand the first thing about it.  So the fact that Wayne had ever been a girl as well as a boy was hidden and never spoken of, and no one in Croydon Harbour knew except his parents and Thomasina.

The characters, also, are very well developed; especially Treadway Blake.  It would have been very, very easy to paint him in broad strokes resulting in a one dimensional character, but Ms. Winter did not do this.  He has his own motivations, his own complex approach to the world, and clearly, his own very deep love for his child.  In fact, he was probably the most interesting character; certainly, he underwent the most development over the course of the novel (with the possible exception of Annabel/Wayne her/himself), and he did it with very little dialogue.

So, summary:  Annabel was great.  Plus it’s Canadian.  So two thumbs up.  Read it.

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2 Responses

  1. OK, it’s on the list!

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